Explain the interaction between Launcelot and Old Gobbo in Act II Scene ii of The Merchant of Venice.
The interaction between Lancelot and his father, Old Gobbo, in this scene, is based on a comic misunderstanding: Old Gobbo is nearly blind and does not even recognise his own son. Lancelot therefore decides to have some fun with him. He asks Lancelot where his son is and Lancelot pretends he is dead. Old Gobbo is shocked, as he was relying on his son for support in his old age. Lancelot finally drops the pretence, but at first Old Gobbo still does not recognise him. When he finally does, Lancelot admits he’s thinking of leaving Shylock, who is a hard master. He wants to serve Bassanio instead. Bassanio coincidentally turns up, and old Gobbo and his son manage to persuade him to take Lancelot on.
The interaction between Lancelot and old Gobbo in this scene largely serves as an occasion for comedy. Lancelot, the Clown, is an established comic character with his witty and ironic observances of other characters and his constant wordplay. This is most evident in this scene in his exchanges with his father, where the element of confusion and misunderstanding increases the comedy of the situation. The scene is of a common type in Shakespearean plays, where lower-class, often vulgar characters provide some comic relief in the form of slapstick and witty worldplay. Yet even amidst the often raucous comedy, such characters often express sombre truths, as here, when Lancelot remarks that:
Nay, indeed if you had your eyes, you might fail of the knowing me. It is a wise father that knows his own child.
Lancelot observes that even if his father could see properly, he might still not be able to recognise his son – that is to say, he still might not be able to understand him, to really know him. Lancelot here alludes to his earlier characterization of his father as a bit less than honest and contrasts his father's traits with "wise":